Weeks before, I’d attended a meeting where we residents learnt that the council was considering adding an additional lift to the block. As a home owner, I would be liable to pay a share of the cost. It would be in the region of £10,000.
For me that was yet another nightmare. The children and I had been living a roller coaster existence since Edward, my policeman husband, left us to live with someone else when Susie was not yet three and Stephen nine years old.
I was devastated and my feelings were a strange mix of meekness and pride. He had rejected me and I would show him that I didn’t need him. I became fiercely independent. Very foolishly, I agreed to a do-it-yourself divorce, all the custody and access arrangements, and maintenance for the children of £9 each a week until they were 16 – no maintenance for me. I think we had the cheapest divorce on the planet.
Of course, we were evicted from the free police married quarters once we were divorced. I’d applied for social housing before this and when it became imminent, the council put us in a halfway house before I incurred any fees for court hearings.
Three months later I accepted their offer of the apartment.
When his father left, it had hit Stephen really hard; Susie was too young to understand, and she was still the apple of her father’s eye. But her brother suffered and hit out indiscriminately. In the years that followed he got into all sorts of trouble and became totally estranged from his father. When Edward remarried Susie was a bridesmaid but Stephen was not invited.
I truly believe that the reason I survived three diagnoses of breast cancer was because my children still needed me. When I decided to take up my ‘Right to Buy’ option on our flat, it was because I desperately wanted to have a chance to leave them something after I was gone.
Although there was never much money, we’d had plenty of happy times. I was a working mother and somehow managed to pay for activities for the children. One summer, they each had a week caring for horses and learning to ride. We spent time with friends at each other’s homes. Once Susie started school, I even managed to go back to college and get a degree.
Eventually I met Philip – another single parent who lived in our block with his two daughters. We couldn’t afford package holidays but we all went camping together.
In 1996, my offspring were aged 25 and 32. Stephen had missed out on qualifications and was unable to hold down a job. He had moved north and married but that hadn’t worked out and he’d come home to Mum. I was providing a home for him and supporting him. Susie had worked abroad and was now renting a nearby bedsitter and continuing to work as a nanny.
Philip and I were cohabiting. Still, I determined to remain independent and pay the mortgage and bills myself so that the home would remain mine and eventually my children’s.
The previous year, I had been made redundant from my full time job and had set up a business with an ex-colleague. We worked as consultants from our homes but were struggling to become recognised and were not yet making a profit.
I didn’t have £10 to spare, let alone the £10,000 that would be my share of the cost of the new lift. And I didn’t have the guaranteed income I needed to get a loan. I had eked out my redundancy money to cover my mortgage repayments and our living expenses, but there was very little left.
The letter I was opening from the landlord would give me their decision, which would tell me which way the roller coaster would be going next – up or down. I moved in slow motion as I pulled out the letter, unfolded it, set it down on the table in front of me, smoothed it out and started to read.
“Thank heavens. They’re not going to put in the new lift.” But what they were going to do was raze the building to the ground. Was this any better news? It meant they would buy the flat back from me at current market value.
Unfortunately there had been a slump in the housing market. They offered me a lot less than the value they placed on it when I bought it. But I had qualified for the full discount when I bought. I would have a small amount of equity.
The council’s offer was less than my own independent valuation. My solicitor set up negotiations that would result in a little extra.
Meanwhile I was still living the nightmare of not knowing if we would end up homeless. If I could get another mortgage, I wasn’t going to be able to buy locally in South London where prices were so high. I contacted all the housing associations with shared ownership schemes but nothing came up for me, although what we discovered did allow Susie to get her own home soon afterwards.
For a long time I’d had a pipe dream of living in the country. Years before, I’d shared a holiday cottage in Dorset with a friend and had fallen in love with the surrounding countryside. I wondered what house prices would be like in the county. After all, it was half way to where my sister lived in the west. And Philip was happy to move there with me. He was a minicab driver in London and could get a taxi licence to operate in Dorset.
Calls to estate agents brought a flood of property information and I began to look at locations along the train line from London. My computer and I could be based anywhere but, until I could afford a car, I’d need to be able to travel to my clients’ businesses by public transport.
I was overjoyed when I found out that prices in the Blackmore Vale were within my reach. After viewing a number of houses, I chose one not far from the station. It was in a quiet area set back from the road in a group that surrounded a green and some trees.
It wasn’t easy getting another small mortgage but I eventually found a lender that would accept me as self employed. Philip and I are married now, and we have plenty of equity in our home, which is a freehold property with gardens front and back.
The nightmare is over and we’ve been living the dream, half way between where our three girls live and my sister in the opposite direction, with Stephen and his new girlfriend only four miles away.
I have another dream now that’s about to come true. Soon we’ll be moving to another lovely home at the seaside. I truly believe that, however hard things get, you should never stop dreaming. Life is just taking you towards the fulfilment of your dreams.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JEAN KNILL has two successful blogs to her name , Jean’s Musings and Jak’s Blog.
She is also a noted writer at Constant Content where she has discussed a variety of topics from The Infectious Romp that is Mamma Mia to Legends of The Three Gorges.
She has this to say for herself:
“I started freelance writing in the early 1980s and have been been published in many UK magazines and newspapers, as well as in writing and travel e-zines. Until recently, I had to slot the writing in beside teaching and marketing projects. Now I have retired from these sidelines and am revelling in the freedom to write as much as I want.”
Thanks Jean for contirbuting your 2nd heart-warming story. This one tugged at my heartstrings and inspired me more than you’ll ever know.